Julian Moxon/PARIS

THE EUROPEAN Parliament has come under conflicting pressures from aviation bodies over the liberalisation of ground handling at European airports.

At stake is the entire range of air- and land-side ground-handling operations, ranging from ramp, baggage and passenger handling, through to aircraft servicing and maintenance, fuel and oil handling, catering, surface transport and flight operations.

The ground-handling issue became controversial in July 1993, when four major European airlines filed complaints to the European Commission (EC) about the "restrictive and abusive" ground-handling monopolies at Frankfurt and Milan airports, and by Iberia at all Spanish airports. (Spain has since promised to eliminate ground-handling monopolies by 1997.)

The legislation necessary to liberalise ground handling is not expected to be agreed before the middle of 1996, and only after the European Parliament and European Council of Ministers agree on amendments to the EC's draft proposal. A further two years may then be allowed for airports to comply with the resulting EC directive.

European airlines, which are making major efforts to improve efficiency, want more competition at airports to reduce ground-handling costs, and are demanding immediate liberalisation of at least some elements of ground-handling operations.

The Association of European Airlines (AEA) is pushing for the EC to produce a "regulation", rather than a directive. The AEA's secretary general, Karl-Heinz Neumeister, told the European Parliament that a directive "...would allow member states to inject serious delays into the process".

Neumeister wants the EC to agree to a two-stage process for ground-handling liberalisation, dealing with land- and air-side activities separately. He says that land-side operations should be liberalised first, "...because they are less constrained by space, and are not especially subject to safety concerns", while air-side activities should be allowed a two-year period for liberalisation, to allow for space and capacity constraints.

"We propose that the regulation should provide initially for a minimum of two independent, third-party air-side handlers, and two self-handlers," says Neumeister.

The Airports Council International (ACI) says that the EC proposals go too far, particularly in the area of self-handling, where the EC wants member states to be responsible for ensuring freedom. It says that self-handling "...will have the same negative effects on airport capacity as third-party handling", and wants airport operators to be allowed to decide to what extent they can accept third-party and self-handling.

"European airports have long and fiercely defended their position as the even-handed providers of services on a non-discriminatory basis to all airport users," says the ACI, which is also concerned about the safety issues surrounding the arrival of new operators.

The AEA points out, however, that "...those who use the safety argument to slow down the liberalisation process should study the situation in airports like London and Schiphol", where, it says, safety has not been compromised by the introduction of competing ground-handling services.


Source: Flight International